Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nature Morte: Some Single Examples

IV. Some more Examples
Since most of the abstract-inspired commercial work is under Copyright, serious copyright, I shall merely point out that many famous photographers did such work.  One that is outstanding, in my opinion, is Paul Outerbridge.  But from Steichen through Irving Penn (and not counting Fashion photography) high-end work for publication in print included some brilliant and influential work, largely in the line of descent that I have tried to open up in these posts.  For example, Steichen's 1926 Matches and Match Boxes for Stehli Silks (scroll down at linked site) are part of an international exploitation of photographic abstraction for patterns.  Among the best current examples (more 'abstract' than you might think?) is Oak Leaves in the blog "Naturally".
But I was dumbfounded when an old friend, js, contributed four images of a wrapped quarter-pound of butter such as to make the young Paul Strand feel jealous: was butter already wrapped that way before World War I?  Did men not use kitchens in Strand's New York City?  These are perfect photographic, Nature Morte, too, specimens of modern abstraction.
Two more are available in the Album.  Butter is not the subject nor the idea.  Between the shapes of light and shadow and the slightly crooked wrapper the perspective is almost reversed, and the shapes of incident light and cast shadows are both inseparable and equally interesting, not to mention the surprising transparency of the butter itself.  Details of light showing under the corner of the butter (it is the western USA "cube" rather than the eastern USA "stick") and striking through the folds of wrapping are delightful.
One more by bw is also plain elegance, no less: very pure Nature Morte of classical kind, not with an abstract effect, but not "about" books or pots, either.  Understated complementary colors, yes.  Again, it is not jumbling nor avoiding recognizability that makes a distinguished photographic still life.
For example, the next image is not really about turtles, attractive as these creatures are as they scramble up and down sandy beaches to hatch their eggs.  It is not ecology so much as delight in them, as daylight behind them and a band of pale green in the upper half of the image enhances them:
I have very much enjoyed others' contributions, as when some objects rescued from bins visually recall the daguerreotypes of fossils in rows (these are not, of course, ac's only contributions):
Needless to say, as the older photographers have inspired us all, my friends' contributions have also inspired me to profit from increased familiarity with that Nikon S9100 (all cameras, and tools generally, must be learned and made one's own) and from their own examples.
These three, perhaps, may represent my viewing my own premises as objects of view defined by light.

No matter that the objects are cheap imports or that the stoop has no door stop but an old paint can.  One becomes obsessive, happily so.  The pots of kitchen tools likewise keep suggesting themselves, over and over, and now that one needn't buy film...  
Sometimes one sees in terms of a different chapter of Naomi Rosenblum's big textbook (or other books on the history of photography);  after all, as John Szarkowski pointed out, oh so justly, in "Photography Until Now" (Museum of Modern Art, 1989, his "Now"), the generations of photographers that have been educated in art schools and universities where History of Photography is required, are apt to find that there is nothing new under the sun.  True, but even my Game of Nature Morte Picasa album shows that novelty is not the same as a new and personal, unique way of seeing: Vision is never stale, except the meretricious kind of imitation, exploiting what is current and fashionable.  Take a camera, any camera, and make it your own by using it consistently as you desire to use it (no, not for muckraking or stalking!), and you will find your own vision.  The Nature Morte in photography is just a good way of getting at the difference between illustrating anecdotes or verbal notions and making images that are memorable for their visual properties.  Szarkowski's book, by the way, especially if you can find a used copy of the original edition, is a beautiful and enlightening one.  You don't have to agree with everything he says.  One never has to become a True Believer (a book title very popular when I was quite young).
Of course, there is nothing wrong with using photography to illustrate something else or to suggest an association or allusion.  It is, however, very hard not to do so.  Personally, I love trying to take watery and associative images like those of Clarence White and Gertrude K√§esbier and Baron de Meyer (for all of which see the textbooks and the Masters of Photography web site).  This view is one such.
pl (2006)
The line may be hard to draw, but photos that are just visual anecdotes of lots of one's own junk are also something else again, and I have left some of my own in the album, just stuff without any memorable visual organization (the other contributors are not referred to here; that is why I put initials under all the images, but for 'pl', mine, I did just toss in a lot for you to sort out).  I also left in the album a number, by several of us, that I like just as well as those I chose to discuss here.
Another category that is important in the mid-20th century is Expressionist or Surrealist images.  Only a few artists succeed.  I'd never try to imitate Minor White or Clarence Laughlin or even that aspect of Harry Callahan.   If someone must, as an artist, go that way, he or she must find it within and of necessity.  I confess (to make an example of it) to seeing light hitting plastic through the back of an old chair in such a way that by moving I could confine it.  I knew why it attracted me, but it doesn't mean anything in particular; it doesn't even SEEM to mean anything inward:
The wire (I was charging the Kindle's battery) only looks odd.  Not that it's a bad snapshot, but Minor White has a magical photograph that I was merely reminded of.  Ergo.  That's what comes of knowing the history of photography.
But the Butter images by js mean something in terms of the miracle of the human brain in the act of seeing.
P.S. If anyone still has an unsent image that needs to be added here, send it and, if I understand it, I'll add it here, or at least add it to the album with your initials.  Only it must be "Game of Nature Morte".